If you’re making a horror flick today, it’s only natural to want to reclaim a piece of the genre’s past in your work. After all, horror is a genre where a film that convincingly evokes the “old school” is automatically guaranteed instant street-cred with a significant part of the audience. However, pulling off such a feat involves more than attention to hairstyles, fashion and musical score: if a filmmaker leans too heavily on such contrivances and ignores real craftsmanship then the result will fail twice (as a horror film and as an homage).
Thankfully for horror fans, Blood Junkie negotiates this tightrope in an effective manner. It carefully evokes the independent efforts of horror’s early-1980’s era as it presents the story of Craig (Nick Sommer) and Teddy (Mike Johnston), a couple of high school-grad slackers looking to shake off the doldrums by “getting loaded and laid.” To do so, Craig fast-talks Laura (Sarah Luther) and Rachel (Emily Treolo) into going on a camping trip at an old, abandoned campground where they will be guaranteed privacy for their boozing/sexing exploits.
Unfortunately, there are two problems that Craig and Teddy didn’t foresee in their rush for forest-set bacchanalia. First off, they have to bring along Laura’s oddball little brother Andy (Brady Cohen). The second problem is that the abandoned campground is located near the site of a vacant factory where a jump-suited, blood-drinking killer lurks. Boobs and bloodshed ensue, as well as a few surprises…
The most impressive thing about Blood Junkie is its ability to play its genre-reclamation agenda with a straight face. Writer/director Drew Rosas sidesteps the temptation of making a big deal out of the film’s retro trappings and instead concentrates on inhabiting the skin of an early 1980’s horror flick. It’s a very carefully studied homage – flashes of MTV-influenced editing, slasher flick plot-points, a delightfully cheap-sounding synth score – but it never strains for effect.
Rosas also edited, did sound design and served as co-cinematographer and co-composer so the film has a uniquely handcrafted/fully-realized touch to it. Best of all, he understands the concept of brevity and keeps the film from wearing out its welcome by pacing it so it clocks in at a lean 72 minutes.
It also helps that the director is savvy enough to realize that the writing and acting have to work with the photography/editing/score to achieve a convincing retro effect. To pull this off, he creates characters that are amusing enough to hold the audience’s interest and gets his actors to deliver deadpan-witty performances that can believably recreate the kind of pre-irony teenagers that existed in early 1980’s horror flicks. As a result, the performances are funny but have a relaxed, natural quality to them: Sommers is a big scene-stealer as the self-styled leader of the group but Treolo also steals a few scenes as a girl with a valley girl-ish attitude of disinterest.
All of these factors make Blood Junkie the rare horror homage that is satisfying whether you approach it as an homage or just watch it for grindhouse-style kicks. Hopefully, it can find an audience with the same people who snap up vintage slasher flicks on DVD because it delivers the same kind of cheap thrills – and it approximates the vibe of those past trash-classics in a way that will make the hardcore fan smile.